DHS Plans to Water Down Real ID in Last-Ditch Effort to Lure States In; Privacy Threats Remain

November 1, 2007 12:00 am

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DHS plans to hollow out original Real ID plans to save flawed, doomed program, state officials say

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Washington, DC – State officials across the country were told in a private conference call with the Department of Homeland Security that Real ID restrictions on Americans would be weakened to the point that they would negate the original intent of the program, those officials told the ACLU.

Crucial parts of original DHS plans for Real ID have been scrapped, including the requirements that all airline passengers show their Real IDs at the gate. In an effort to save the doomed program from failure, driver’s licenses would no longer have to follow a strict national standard, state officials said, recounting what DHS Assistant Secretary Richard Barth told them in a telephone conference call last month. This news has raised ACLU suspicions that these provisions may have been empty threats all along.

“In discussions I participated in with the Department of Homeland Security, they were asked point blank, ‘What will happen to states that don’t participate?’” said Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who was on the phone call with Barth. “The response was, ‘Nothing will happen. There will be no penalty. You can still get on a plane.’”

But a weakened Real ID does not mean weakened privacy concerns. Americans’ information would still be stored in national databases available to all levels of law enforcement, and personal information would still be readable on the card. Barth said the deadline could be extended from 2013 to 2015 – another sign that DHS officials are stalling. The Real ID regulations DHS promised to release to states to comply with Real ID have been consistently delayed since March.

“I have been against Real ID from the beginning because of the privacy concerns and the cost to states,” said Missouri State Representative Jim Guest (R-05), who was on the conference call and heads an organization against Real ID. “The changes DHS discussed over the phone won’t eliminate our fears about privacy or the cost to states – they will only make more states reject Real ID.”

DHS’ reversal on Real ID comes as Real ID is in serious trouble. Seven states have outright rejected the program, and 10 others have passed resolutions against it. Legislation has been introduced in 38 states to opt out of the program, which is unprecedented. The mandate is unfunded and the cost is steep: Real ID has been estimated to cost at least $14.6 billion. Twice this summer, the U.S. Senate rejected funding bills for Real ID.

“DHS is essentially whittling Real ID down to nothing – all in the name of denying Real ID is a failure,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Tim Sparapani. “Real ID is in its death throes, and any signs of life are just last gasps.”

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